Fireworks limits advance in Gray

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GRAY — A proposal to limit the use of fireworks in town has sparked debate in Gray.

The Town Council held a May 1 first reading on a proposed ordinance, which Gray Community Development Director Doug Webster said he drafted based on council direction and similar ordinances in neighboring towns.

“I leaned on Cumberland and Windham,” Webster said in an interview, adding that Standish also has similar fireworks standards.

The proposed language would limit the use of consumer fireworks to only a few holidays and weekends during the year, and also would require permits from the Gray Public Safety Department for any professional firework displays in town.

The council voted 4-1 last Tuesday night to advance the fireworks ordinance to a second reading scheduled for May 15. Town Manager Deborah Cabana said that if the council approves the measure then, it would go into effect 30 days later.

Consumer fireworks would be limited to July 3, July 4, the Saturday following July 4, the Saturday preceding Labor Day Weekend, the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.

People would also be prohibited from using consumer fireworks within 50 feet of a public way or 75 feet from any building or structure.

The ordinance would institute fines between $100 and $250 plus any attorney fees for a first offense, and between $250 and $750 plus attorney fees for any subsequent offence within a two-year period.

Gray has no police force, and the proposed fireworks ordinance gives enforcement power to state or county law enforcement including the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, the State Police, Inland Fish and Wildlife, and the state Fire Marshal’s Office under the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Webster said his work drafting the proposed ordinance was spurred by council discussion and input from meetings in October 2017 and April 2018.

Under the state law passed in 2011 that legalized consumer fireworks in Maine, municipalities are granted the ability to restrict or ban fireworks use. In the absence of local regulations, consumer fireworks are legal in Maine throughout the year with some restrictions on times.

Little Sebago Lake resident Sharon Young came to the council last fall to  encourage the creation of a fireworks ordinance, and provided testimony in support of the proposal last week.

“I come before you tonight as a citizen of our town, not as representative of any organization or association, and not as a candidate for public office – but as somebody with a valid concern and with the data and documentation supporting the reasons for that concern,” Young said in her written testimony. The concerns she raised Tuesday night touched on safety and the environment, including lake health and the impact on wildlife such as loons.

Young is currently running for Town Council in a three-way race for two seats with former Council Chairman Lew Mancini and current Vice Chairman Bruce Foshay.

Several other residents echoed Young’s support for the ordinance, with one woman highlighting the impact fireworks have on her livestock, which she said are “petrified” when fireworks go off.

At a previous council meeting this spring, resident Matt Sturgis, a former council chairman and current Cape Elizabeth town manager, cautioned the council to take time before moving forward with a fireworks ordinance. He raised questions about how it would be enforced and noted that the issue has come up in town previously.

“Do I think that there’s something that needs to be done? Yes, and I think it’s called the state law,” Sturgis said. “And if we can get people to understand and comply with the state law, then we would do very well with that.”

Council Chairwoman Lynn Gallagher said last week that she had heard concerns about fireworks from constituents in northern and western Gray, and not just those near the town’s lakes.

“We understand that, for several years, fireworks have been permitted for 365 days of the year. But all of these issues are starting to come to fruition, and finding that balance is essentially what we’re trying to do,” Chairwoman Lynn Gallagher said last week. “I would like to see us move forward with this.”

Councilor Dan Maguire was the lone no vote last week.

“We are taking a legal activity, that is legal 365 days a year, and reducing it by 97 percent. Which the state does give us the authority to do,” Maguire said, adding that he couldn’t support the ordinance as currently written. “I think that this is just far too restrictive.”

Maguire also said he felt the proposed ordinance language was “rushed” and “needs to be vetted more.”

Foshay, who disclosed that he is a member of the Little Sebago Lake Association after Councilor Jason Wilson disclosed that his mother is a member of the group, pushed back against the notion that the ordinance has been rushed.

“We have not rushed anything … and we’re not rushing this,” Foshay said. “I think it’s time for us to buck up.”

“I think we need something on the books,” he said.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

The Town of Gray is considering an ordinance limiting the use of consumer fireworks.

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